Johanns kills ’em with kindness

He was pummeled with a hailstorm of insults, criticisms and half-truths before he even left the Rose Garden. And how does Mike Johanns respond to all those who hoped he’d wilt out of the box?

“For them to say —’His role has been so significant, so important, that we hate to see him leave’ — is an unbelievable compliment.”

“When I came out here three years ago, no one had any idea who I was. Now even my opponents are saying, ‘This person had an impact and we wish he would stay.’

“I’m kind of gratified and humbled by the comments.”

(Critics start early, but heat for D.C. departure a compliment, Johanns says – OWH – 9/21/07.)

Wow. Not only is that impressive restraint, but it’s exactly the kind of response Nebraskans want to hear out of the “level-headed” candidate.

And then for the return volley, Johanns smartly lets a surrogate – this time Senator Chuck Hagel – handle the harsh words. And harsh they were:

(Senator Ben ) Nelson took Johanns to task for not staying through to see the farm bill finished. It sets policy on farm subsidies, nutrition programs and conservation spending.

That prompted a retort from Hagel, who said that the Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, hasn’t yet even offered a proposal for a farm bill in his committee.

“Mike Johanns can’t do anything about that,” Hagel said Thursday. “That’s Democratic leadership. To try to say that somehow Mike Johanns has failed getting a farm bill is laughable and ignorant.”

Laughable and ignorant. No, but Chuck, how do you REALLY feel? (And it didn’t hurt that Chuck was able to take it to the juinor Senator…)

Everyone has their strategy. Bruning’s is slash and burn. Daub’s will be an attempt to shake every hand possible and out smart ‘em. But Johanns – and probably Kerrey’s, if he gets in – will be to be smile and chuckle and let someone else wield the dagger.

Now we’ll say this: to pound Johanns may have been the right move. Most people stick with their first impression, and how many, after they heard all the rest, will hear Johanns response?

The politically savvy do (like you, Leavenworth Street reader), but does your neighbor? Your co-worker? The sort-of-interested, but really focusing on kiddie soccer, high-school football, and the miserable Husker defense? Ask around and see what they heard and what they think (and feel free to post actual impressions here).

But we can’t argue with Johanns strategy.
He is no political novice.


  1. Eric says:

    First thing I heard from a friend about the Johanns news:

    “He looks old.”

    It was just kind of a matter-of-fact statement, not an insult, etc. Obviously at 57, he still has plenty of good years in him. Maybe it was just a bad photo or two. I do think that Washington seems to make people go gray faster. But, with all of these aging giants getting into the race, it makes me wonder if Bruning has an advantage with his youth. I don’t know if that was a contributing factor to TO’s demise, but maybe some of these guys ought to start going to Ben Nelson’s barber.

  2. mom with a mouth says:

    My friends who are not political groupies are fed up with the slams and name calling. Those who spout it lose credibility with every word that leaves their mouth, so Mike Johanns’ strategy of “killing ‘em with kindness” may just be the ticket. (And yup, they take Senator Nelson’s comment as an angry person with an ax to grind.)

  3. Street Sweeper says:

    We may do a separate post on this, but in the mean time, note that the above link to the NYT Jeff Zeleny story states:

    “Democratic Party officials in Nebraska and Washington are grudgingly conceding that they think it is highly unlikely (Bob Kerrey) will run for the Senate.

    “The officials haven’t lost all hope – Mr. Kerrey is headed back to Nebraska for a quick weekend trip, perhaps the Midwestern air will influence his thinking – but they are all but certain he will not enter the race to fill the seat of retiring Senator Chuck Hagel.”

  4. bob maplethorpe says:

    The Nebraska Farmers Union’s John Hanson criticized Johanns for leaving just as the farm bill is at a critical stage. Hansen questioned Johanns’ effectiveness as agriculture director, saying, “The farm bill Johanns presented to Congress did not receive one vote in the House. I don’t know if he was very successful in shaping policy.”

    Does Mike Johanns also take this as a compliment? I think he is wildly underestimating how angry people are out here…

  5. Street Sweeper says:


    Considering that the Farmers (Soviet) Union is the liberal rural group, that’s not surprising.

    The Farm Bureau gave Johanns shining marks.

  6. Mr. Henry says:

    Bob – the Farm Bureau is the star, the FU is the X, and you’re the zero in the car.
    I don’t think you want to side with the radical left Farmers Union.

  7. Bobby Fidelis says:

    After enduring the Nelson-Ricketts race, I’ll bet Nebraskan’s are ready for some calm and kindness. I don’t think they’ll be very tolerant of anything else. Bruning’s qualified, but he should watch his rhetoric with Johanns and the approach it looks like he’s going to take. It was okay to be angry when sending the message to Hagel, but it’s time to quit throwing haymakers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Nelson has done little or nothing as a senator other than dye his hair

    Nelson cost taxpayers of Nebr a lot of money over his handeling of Boyd County

  9. Anonymous says:

    Johanns’ position on immigration is his Achilles heel. You can’t favor amnesty for illegals and get elected statewide in Nebraska.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Do we really know Johanns stand on immigration yet? It was his duty as AG Secretary to support and promote the policies of his boss, GW Bush, President of the United States. We will see if Senate candidate Johanns takes the same view. If Vickie Powell does take the job as campaign manager, she ought to have learned her lesson with the Osborne campaign and urge Johanns to be tough in immigration. Osborne’s support for in-state tution at UNL for illegals was the final death blow to his campaign. Choosing Kate Witek as running mate put the campaign in critical condition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.